And though the workshop was requested by the MPs themselves, few of the country’s elected representatives had been motivated to turn up when CINews visited the Crown Beach Resort venue on Monday.
Dyfan Jones, an Effective Governance Team Leader & Parliamentary Development Specialist for the UNDP, says the aim is to discuss a number of bills that are about to be presented to parliament, so all members clearly understand the proposed laws set out in the legislation before going into chambers.
MPs said they wanted to get as much information from officials before they debated the merits of the bills in parliament, Jones says.
On Monday morning, the MPs discussed the upcoming Crimes Bill 2017, which will be debated next week before it goes to government in early 2018. Empty chairs highlighted the apparent lack of interest in the event.
Member for Vaipae-Tautu in Aitutaki, and chairman of the Crimes Bill Committee, Mona Ioane says although the turnout was poor, he was pleased to have had the opportunity to discuss the Crimes Bill 2017 with other members before it goes to parliament.
Ioane says, “Up until now, only the members serving on the Crimes Bill Select Committee have had a comprehensive understanding of the legislation.”
He says the workshop was designed to get everyone “on the same page”, and to get any issues out of the way in an open forum before debating the legislation.
The session showed, however, that there could be problems with next week’s parliamentary debate, given the low number of MPs who attended the workshop and the fact that those who did attend, did not appear to have a good understanding as yet of the Crimes Bill.
One issue that arose during the morning’s discussion was how to better incorporate customs and cultural or religious practices into legislation.
This was largely seen as an issue for the outer islands, such as in Penryhn, where MP Willie John says his constituents place a far greater importance on “no swimming, walking or fishing on Sundays.”
MP Nandi Glassie however says the focus should be on criminal behaviour, and that the majority of cultural issues brought up can be dealt with by individual island councils, mayors, and bylaws.
MPs were also reminded that once a law is passed it has national application, and what may seem suitable for an outer island, may not be practical for Rarotonga.
Ioane says a Cook Islands Maori translation of the Crimes Bill 2017 will be available in the near future for the wider community. He says this will help people to better understand the Act, especially those who live in the outer islands.
Jones says the workshop was organised by the UNDP with funding from the New Zealand government.
“The UNDP has also shared information on other jurisdictions and issues that are in the Crimes Bill. That has given the members of parliament food for thought while they consider their views on the bill.”
Jones says the workshop is not meant to duplicate or replicate what might happen in the debating chamber.
“However, when debates happen in parliament, MPs will have much more information and we’ll have a very engaged and constructive discussion on some of the key issues on those bills.”
Yesterday MPs discussed upcoming legislation for the Justice of the Peace Bill, Personal Properties Securities Bill, and the Maritime Zones Bill.
The workshop finishes today, with a final day of discussion on the Financial Management Bill and the Companies Bill.